Will the proposed separation of Ladakh from J&K benefit the people of Ladakh?
The Ladakh region has held great geostrategic importance down history. Yet, it has received stepmotherly treatment from the now-suspended Jammu & Kashmir government, despite occupying some 60% of the erstwhile state’s geographical area.
The passes of Ladakh connect Central Asia, South Asia and China, and the region is cut off from the rest of India for six months during winter.
The tribes here have limited means of livelihood, poor roads, impossible telecom and internet connectivity, undeveloped markets for their produce and low employment opportunities. The proximity of the India-Pakistan-China border, and the ubiquitous presence of Indian Army and paramilitary forces, underlines not only Ladakh’s strategic sensitivity, but also its people’s vulnerability.
Ladakh contributed 4 seats to the J&K Assembly and one seat to the Lok Sabha. Obviously, no political party would go through the efforts of working to develop the region nor pay attention to peoples’ aspirations.
Below is a picture of the Srinagar-Leh Highway, which is one of the two roads which connects Ladakh with the rest of India.
Becoming a union territory is the greatest thing that has happened to Ladakh, but in order for Ladakh to maintain its culture and identity as well as develop into a vibrant centre of tourism it must ensure the following:
- Ladakhi/Tibetan be made the official language of the territory replacing Urdu.
- Improve literacy rate and education of people for development. As Ladakh has just a few hundred thousand people spread over a large area, combating illiteracy will be difficult but should follow a Himachal-like example.
- Build modes of connectivity to Kashmir and rest of India that are efficient and promote transportation between the two regions.
- Improve infrastructure within Ladakh that can accommodate tourism and influx of visitors as well as a growing population.
- Continue strong presence of troops along LoC.
As a Union territory, much improvement in infrastructure can take place. The road from Nubhra to Pangong, and again from Pangong to Leh, for instance, is in a very bad condition.
Special attention needs to be given to power supply, and solar energy needs to be tapped fully to electrify villages. The Zojila Pass project being undertaken by the beleaguered Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) needs to be expedited.
This entire region is in urgent need of mobile and internet connectivity. Telecom operators will have to be incentivised to tackle this on a priority. Without high bandwidth, it won’t be possible to undertake e-governance. Also, many cases of social benefits (such as pension) are pending for a long time here.